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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Digital To Do Lists, or Mommy, Look at the Pretty Cow!

This week, we're rounding out our discussion of digital helpers to keep our To Do lists from overflowing our desks and flat surfaces with floozies. Old-fashioned To Do lists, where you keep a running lists of tasks, are wonderful, provided that you:

a) keep your list prioritized and updated;
b) know where to find your list; and
c) actually look at your list!

For many of you readers, a list written on the back of an envelope, a Post-It® or even a fresh sheet of notebook paper will be forgotten minutes after pen is set to paper, but a computerized list (even one created by you) carries more weight. It seems actual typeface wields magical powers that even the most perfect display of the Palmer handwriting method can't match. So, if you're the type who's more likely to take orders from a list that lives online, here are some opportunities for you to use old-school To Do lists with a newfangled, online twist.

Unless noted otherwise, these sites are FREE to use (at least at the basic levels), although homemade sites do welcome donations!

Remember The Milk -- While it helps that Paper Doll adores animated cows, the true test of a system is whether people use it and enjoy it, and according to a recent Lifehacker poll, Remember the Milk gets truly high marks. It seems like nobody can say enough good things about Remember the Milk's interface and options, but as with all of these resources, only you can determine what will keep you committed to using your system. Just know you can milk (hee!) these features out of RTM:

  • Lists are organized by tabs to make them easy to flip through, and reordering by priority is simple.
  • Create your To Do items the way you prefer -- Standard list? Tagged list? Task clouds? All are options here, so if you'd like to look at clouds from both sides now, have at it!
  • Add tasks easily--by email, by phone, even by Sandy and Jott!
  • Take your tasks with you if you have to be on the go! -- Access your task lists on any web-enabled cell or mobile device, print an entire list or a weekly planner with upcoming tasks, view tasks on your web-based calendar with Apple iCal or Google Calendar or even subscribe to feeds with Atom or RSS (so it's like blogging to an audience of one: YOU).
  • Receive reminders however you wish--via email, SMS/text, and instant messenger (including AIM, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, Skype and Yahoo! IM).
  • Color code tasks on your list, if you're guided by visuals, and/or add add notes to tasks if you're more verbal.

Ta Da List comes from the folks at 37 signals which an awfully good online rep for developing productivity tools (like Basecamp, Backpack and the new Highrise).
  • Ta Da list combines listmaking with some common Web 2.0 features of social networking, so you can view other people's lists to help you get started on your own. So, while you probably need to create your own grocery list, viewing someone else's list of "Books I Should Read Before I'm 100" would probably benefit your own listmaking.
  • Share your lists with family, friends or co-workers to help make sure nobody duplicates any efforts on a shared project. Or share with the world to inspire someone two continents away to spread your goal of trying every soda pop currently in production. Or keep your lists private, like a 7th grade diary entry.
  • Lots of white space abounds, so you won't feel overwhelmed by words and diagrams encroaching on your already overfilled brain.
  • Larger-than-typical fonts mean you won't have squint to read your lists; tasks can already be a headache, and Ta-da doesn't want to contribute to that.
  • Check boxes allow you the visual and visceral satisfaction of checking off a completed task.
  • Use your favorite web browser for PCs and Macs...and even the iPhone.

Todoist is almost zen-like in its simplicity, and yet it managed to rank second, just behind Remember The Milk, in reader popularity in that Lifehacker poll. This leads Paper Doll to believe that we may really all desire fewer features, but more of one big benefit--serenity.
  • Registration is amazingly simple. I timed myself--it took 14 seconds (using, of course, my browser's auto-fill option for typing my name and email address).
  • A series of keyboard shortcuts (just like you use in Word or Excel or your mail program) means your hands rarely have to leave the keyboard.
  • Reminders can come in a variety of forms: Email, Instant Messages (via Jabber or MSN), cell phone text or Twitter.
  • The interface is so easy, even a Caveman (uh, oh) technophobe could handle it.
  • The calendar lets you set due dates and then view, with a click, what needs to be done when. You can even click to see what you're overdue for completing, like reading the most recent Paper Doll blog!
  • Integration with other systems, including gMail, iGoogle widgets, QuickSilver and a variety of other goodies means that simplicity doesn't have to be low-tech.
Todoist has one other nifty feature--"screencast" videos with audio to walk you through each step of the process in order to maximize your use of the system. For those of us who like some hand-holding, this is appealing.

Bla Bla List isn't very fancy, but for some people, the fewer attributes, the better.
  • You can watch a video to see how fast and easy registration and list set-up can be.
  • BlaBlah's interface is designed to take up a small footprint on your screen, so you can keep it open while you're working on other things.
  • Set up an RSS feed so you can keep track of updates to your tasks.
  • There are secure options to invite someone to access your lists (a family member? a work partner? your nutritionist or life coach?), and you can control all access.

Rough Underbelly's Online CEO makes getting things done into a game. If you're the type who thrives on competition, even playing your own personal version of Beat The Clock when performing daily tasks, this may be an intriguing option for you.
  • Daily, repeated To Do items are the focus. Unlike most To Do list web sites which focus on maintaining a wide variety of lists related to shopping, tasks, appointments and project elements, Rough Underbelly's Online CEO is designed primarily for those who want to concentrate on daily tasks, like publishing blog posts, working out, prospecting clients, and so on.
  • Assign point values to the tasks you create, based on the relative value (in your estimation) of completing the tasks.
  • Once you check the box to show you've completed the task (like checking in after a treasure hunt), the system scores your success and creates neato charts and graphs to reflect your achievements.
Again, this is a more specialized option. If you're looking for a straightforward web-based To Do system without the competitive aspect, opt for one of the choices.

Web To Do

Simple doesn't even BEGIN to describe this option, representative of a lot of the homemade To Do list sites out there. After creating a username and password and providing your "real" name and email address, you're faced with a simple screen a text box and an "ADD" button below each of four task options:
  1. To Do Today
  2. Near-term Goals
  3. Long-term Goals
  4. Other Fun Things
One a task is typed it, you can edit it, delete it, or with the click of an arrow, move it to the next category to downgrade its relative urgency or to the previous category to upgrade the urgency.

This is barely one step above using digital (on-screen) Post-It Notes® that you can move around your desktop to indicate priority levels, but for those who like the sleek and simple, you can't get any more streamlined that this option.

The above items merely touch on some of the more popular or better known online To Do list sites, but just because something is well-blogged-about or in the running for Best "To Do" On Campus doesn't mean it's for everyone. Each system has its own backers, so you may also want to check out the following niche options, as well as Brian Benzinger's stellar (if dated) 25 To Do Lists To Stay Productive post at Solution Watch:

do.Oh is best described as a To Do system crossed with some wacky polling options. It seems perfect for the younger, trendier set to use to poll friends via Twitter and Facebook. In other words, a great option for people with more time than tasks and a yen for the goofy.

Orchestrate was created by just one person and is "in beta", meaning that it's still being tested. The funny thing? Between Paper Doll finding the site and creating this post, the secret invitation-only aspect got so secret, nobody can play in this beta sandbox right now. But keep your eyes open!

ToodleDo is a clean hierarchical system of folders for projects or task types, with options for creating sub-tasks, tags (such as for status as tasks near completion) but sadly no task clouds, and myriad collaboration and mobile options.

Voo2Do ties with Remember the Milk for cutest logo! Note the option of seeing the original vs. current estimated completion dates for a tasks; the system also notes elapsed time and time remaining until estimated completion. That voodoo that they do so well reflects that people, and projects, must be flexible.

And finally, if you're experiencing To Do list overload, review 52Project.com's excellent NOT TO DO LIST, especially my favorites:
  • Do not put on Prince and party like it's 1999. (Well, okay, maybe ONCE, just to get you fired up about your project.)
  • Do not go into the bathroom and give your Academy Award acceptance speech.

posted on: 7/1/2008 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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